Sep 14, 2022 - News

Georgia sees drastic rise in fentanyl-related deaths in teens

Illustration of the score line on a pill in the shape of an upward arrow instead of straight across.
Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

The number of young people in Georgia who died from fentanyl-laced drug overdoses spiked last year by 800% compared with the year before the pandemic, according to a new study by the state department of public health.

What's happening: Lack of education and awareness about the dangers of the synthetic opioid and its increasing presence in other illicit drugs is contributing to a spike in the overdose deaths of teens, researchers from the state agency's drug surveillance unit say.

Catch up quick: Fentanyl is an addictive synthetic opioid that's 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the CDC.

  • It’s also cheap and easy to make, which makes it ideal to mix with other drugs like cocaine and heroin to amplify a user’s high.

By the numbers: In 2021, 36 adolescent Georgians — nearly all of whom were between the ages of 15 and 19 — died from fentanyl-involved drug overdoses, up from 4 in 2019, the study says.

  • In the year before the pandemic began, most cases were concentrated in metro Atlanta. In the following years, overdose deaths were reported in rural counties and areas near the coast.

Zoom out: Including adults, the total number of drug overdose deaths in Georgia increased by 61% during the time period. Fentanyl-involved overdose deaths increased by 230%, the study says.

  • That equates to 2,404 and 1,294 deaths, respectively, in 2021.

What's needed: More education, Laura Edison, a DPH medical epidemiologist, tells Axios.

  • "This should raise the alarm bells to a new level," she said. "We really need to make an effort to make sure that teenagers are aware … that one pill can kill you, and that fentanyl is out there.
  • "Anytime they're taking something that they don't know exactly where it came from and what it is they're putting themselves in serious danger."
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